Two carloads of teenagers and young adults met up at a gas station in the far north suburbs before heading to a nearby stretch of road where they engaged in a street race, switching lanes and maneuvering for position, authorities said.
The race ended disastrously Monday night when one driver lost control of his car, which shot into the median ditch on Illinois Highway 120 in Gurnee, went airborne, rolled over and ejected two passengers, killing 16-year-old Cynthia Perez of Antioch, authorities said.
On Tuesday, prosecutors announced charges against both purported drivers. The teen alleged to have driven the car that crashed — Jeremy Betancourt, 17, of Antioch — is charged with reckless homicide, aggravated street racing and driving without either a valid license or insurance. Michael R. Dawson, 19, also of Antioch, is charged with aggravated street racing and having an expired vehicle registration.
A judge ordered each held on $250,000 bond, authorities said.
Kristy Morrison came upon the crash scene while driving to her Libertyville home. She said she saw a girl lying in the road, far from the car's twisted wreckage. She felt for a pulse and found none before she saw another victim of the crash wounded and staggering toward the girl, she said.
"He was screaming, 'My baby, Cynthia, my baby,'" Morrison said, before he fell and appeared to drift in and out of consciousness.
Betancourt and Perez were both going into their junior year at Antioch Community High School, and Dawson was recently a student there, said Jim McKay, Community High School District 117 superintendent. Class is not in session, but the high school will have staff available to students who want help coping, he said.
The teens in the car allegedly driven by Betancourt were hanging out at a friend's backyard pool in Antioch less than two hours before the crash, said the homeowner, Christine Hartley, whose daughter was friends with Perez. The kids were well-mannered and respectful, Hartley said.
Before leaving, Perez asked Hartley's daughter to hold onto a bouquet of spring flowers her boyfriend had given her. Perez worried they would wilt in the car while they swam, Hartley said.
"She was a beautiful girl," Hartley said.
The drivers had met up at a gas station in Grayslake before the crash, said Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim. The groups appear to have known each other, said Gurnee police Cmdr. Jay Patrick.
Other drivers along Route 120 near Hunt Club Road saw the black 2004 Honda Civic — allegedly driven by Betancourt — try to maneuver around the red 2000 Ford Focus, authorities said. The Civic made a last bid to overtake the Focus and flew out of control, Nerheim said.
Perez and a 20-year-old man were flung from the back seat, police said. That man, Betancourt and a 18-year-old man were all taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, police said. Authorities did not describe their injuries.
The Focus — containing Dawson, a 13-year-old female, a 15-year-old female and a 16-year-old male — did not crash, Patrick said. Police on Tuesday were still working on determining who was and was not wearing a seat belt, he said.
Hinkel and Black are Tribune staff reporters; Fuller is a freelance reporter.